by Adelaide B. Shaw
Nadine picked up the umbrella from the stand in the hallway and looked out the window again. Cloudy with afternoon showers was the morning’s weather report. She was only going to be out for an hour. Leave the umbrella. No. Take it. Never trust the weather report. Especially in summer. Too many times caught without an umbrella. She slipped the strap over her wrist and left the house.
Nadine had white hair and was of average height, five feet, four inches, and shrinking. In her younger days, she was two inches taller and had dark brown wavy hair. She looked seventy and didn’t try to hide it. A waste of time and money, all the cosmetics, plastic surgery, liposuction. Liposuction? Just the thought made her shudder.
She walked at a quick pace, not because of the possible rain, but because it was her natural way to walk. “Slow down,” her mother always said.
Life had been one big hurry after another. In a hurry to grow up, go to college, get a job, get married. Marriage was a whole new kind of hurry. Get to her job, get the groceries, cook the meals, drive the children here, drive them there. Hurry and save for retirement. But luck, fate, circumstance, karma? Whatever the label, she continued as before. A slave to schedules, appointments and time, or the lack thereof. See the doctor, go to the hospital, make the final arrangements, downsize, move. Hurry, hurry. No need to hurry now, but a habit was a habit.
As she walked, the umbrella slapped against her thigh with a rhythmic slup, slup, slup. It was blue with yellow daisies, a large umbrella, large enough to protect two people comfortably. No getting spattered on one’s arms or one’s backside. Alice had given it to her. Bought it with money from her first real job after college. Alice had been in a hurry, too. And Lenny. A hurry to leave home, leave the city, get ahead, climb up, up. They climbed so high Nadine couldn’t see them anymore. Even Carl had been in a hurry in the end. Sick one day. Gone the next. Or so it seemed. Those intervening three months were a blur of speed. Fast forward with no rewind.
First on Nadine’s agenda that day was to buy stamps at the post office. In the afternoon she would write letters to her children. Real letters. No slap dash text or email, but a letter written on pale blue writing paper. Her children didn’t write back. They emailed, texted or called, always short.
For letters, Nadine slowed down. She loved writing letters. Her first ever letter was to a pen pal. A class assignment in high school. She picked the name of a boy in Surrey, England, and for years they exchanged letters. Those were long letters describing where they lived, the people, the streets and countryside, the food. Everything and anything. Newsy letters, about what each did that week and thought.
Nadine wondered why did they stop? Archie married. She married. Archie got a divorce. She did write to him after that. She was certain she did. She read somewhere that divorce leaves you feeling depressed and cut off. So does being a widow. Carl died at about the same time. Maybe she didn’t write.
The line at the post office was long. She tried not to fidget as she inched closer to the window. Five, four, three, two. . . “One hundred first class Forever stamps, please.” The price had risen since she last bought stamps. These should last a while. For paying bills and letters to her children. High school friends, college friends, former neighbors. . . They were no longer writing. Maybe a Christmas card. Then again. . .maybe not. She sent them out last Christmas and received fewer than a dozen, and those included cards from her children, her doctor and dentist.
She was halfway across the street when the Walk sign changed to Do Not Walk. A young woman sprinted diagonally from the sidewalk, through the crosswalk, clipping Nadine on the shoulder. Nadine did a spin. She knew she was going to fall. She saw her hands reach out to grab air. She felt her knees fold like crumpled newspaper, yet was surprised when she hit the ground. Actually, her rump never touched ground. She landed on her shoulder bag, which had twisted around and cushioned the landing, probably defying all laws of physics. She should have been either flat on her back or face down scraping up dirt and grit.
“Oh my God. Are you hurt? Did you hit your head? Should I call 911? Let me help you up. No. Don’t move. Give her some room.”
Nadine was surrounded by a cacophony of voices—where did all these people come from—and by a wall of legs attached to feet encased in a variety of shoes—open shoes, closed shoes, dress shoes, running shoes. Coming from the mouth of the owner of one pair of running shoes was “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” like it was her mantra.
The woman looked to be in her early thirties. She was wearing faded jeans and a rumpled tee shirt. Several strands of hair had come loose from her pony tail, which swung from side to side, keeping time with the mantra. Upside down at her feet was a large carton of diapers. Nadine had a sudden flash of memory. Frantic runs to the market for diapers, formula, baby food. Run, run. Always in a hurry and never enough time. She locked eyes with the young woman. Anxiety and fear. Would Nadine sue? Was the baby okey with the sitter? Nadine could almost hear the young woman’s thoughts.
She shifted her position and felt her legs. Thank God she wore slacks today and not a skirt. Who knows how her skirt would have ended up? No bones felt broken. “I’m fine. I’m fine,’ she managed to say loud enough for all to hear. Within seconds, with the help of two gentlemen, she was standing and led to a bench on the sidewalk. The crowd disbursed, all except the young woman
“I’m so sorry. I . .”
Nadine took her hand. “Try to slow down, dear. Call your home. If the situation is under control there, let me buy you a coffee. I could use one, and I expect you do, too.”
Nadine placed on the table a tray with two coffees and two sugar donuts. A few of the customers in the café had been in the crowd from the street and wished her well. Snippets of conversation reached her, some critical of the young woman, who was sitting with her hands over her face.
“They’re talking about me, aren’t they?”
“Today’s topic, forgotten tomorrow. How old is your baby? Is it your first?”
“Not my first. Tessie is six months. Jeanie is four. I was in a hurry to get home yesterday when I left work and forgot to get diapers. Today’s my day off. I was going to catch up , you know, laundry, cleaning, but Jeanie’s got a cold and was whiny and clingy and then I realized there were no more diapers, so I tried a small towel, but the safety pins are too small to get a good grip and Tessie didn’t want to stay in the crib so I put her on a blanket on the floor but she wiggled out of the towel and left poo all over the blanket and herself.” The young woman gulped for air and began to cry.
Nadine patted her hand and made sympathetic shushing sounds, but stopped in mid shush. “Who’s watching the children? They’re not alone, are they?”
“Oh, my God! No! You saw me call home. A teenage girl Dick and I used once when we went out on our anniversary. She agreed to give up her swim date for double her rate. When I called, she said Tessie was sleeping and she was reading stories to Jeanie.” The young woman looked at her watch. “It’s not even eleven. I’ve been up since five thirty, and I’m exhausted.”
“The days will get easier.” That had been Nadine’s mantra, but it was hard to believe it when living it. She could offer the usual advice—nap when the children nap, don’t skip meals, don’t be shy about asking for help, but what she said was, “Write a letter to someone. Not email. A paper and pen letter. It slows you down. Makes you think. Gives you time to catch your breath. No quick send, then wishing you didn’t send it. If you don’t have anyone to write to, write to me.” Nadine quicky wrote her name and address on a napkin and slid it across the table.
The young woman looked at Nadine. Her eyes and the slight smile were questioning, dubious, uncertain, but she put the napkin in her purse as she got up to leave. “Thank you for listening, for the coffee and for not wanting to sue me.” She left the café, not quite running, but at a rather fast walk.
There I go, Nadine thought. That’s how I was forty years ago. Perhaps the young woman would take her advice. So much good advice is ignored by the young, and Nadine had been no different. Maybe, the young woman would slow down, just a bit, and write. She hoped so.
With a sigh, Nadine stood. She felt tired. The fall had shaken her a little, and she didn’t feel up to marketing. It could wait. This afternoon she would not write letters to her children as she had intended. She would look for Archie’s last letter. Maybe he was at the same address. She would write to him. It would be like old times, a long newsy letter, carefully thought out and unhurried.
Bio: Adelaide B. Shaw lives in Somers, NY. She writes stories and essays and has been published in several journals, in print and online, in the US and abroad. She also writes Japanese short form poetry and has been published extensively. Her blog is: www.adelaide-whitepetals.blogspot.com
by Tom Sheehan
Jim Hedgerow was the boss of Riverbank Cemetery’s burial crew, and this morning he was scratching to make sure he had enough help to “open up” a few places for “quick deposit.”
“Monday,” he said to his gang, “is a pain. You all know that. We’ve got two late shows to open up and I have heard whispers there’ll be a third. So, we have our work cut out for us today.”
He looked casually at his number one man, Bill Blakeslee, and said, “Bill, take a peek in those trees down at the end of the river road. I’ve heard some rumbles about nighttime shenanigans going on down there. Fellows sleeping out there will be gone come the cold weather. I know they fold up and hide their few blankets in an old shelter half once in a while so we won’t find them. They’ve done that all summer. Hell, I know there’s a few old vets in that group, and I won’t chase them out on a bet, even if the Police Chief or the Board of Selectmen tell me to do so. We owe them.”
He sent off a slow salute to the far end of the cemetery. His crew understood the acknowledgement.
The following morning, Blakeslee said, “Jim, some of that ground near those first two we dug yesterday seems like something’s been in there. Maybe an animal. A big one. Dirt is scattered from under the green tarps we use to hide it during the final services, but I can’t figure it out.”
Hedgerow said, “Will the cement vaults fit down in there okay? That’s all I worry about after the hole is dug, of course.”
“Oh, yeah, that looks fine. I was just curious, that’s all.”
The burials went off that week as smooth as ever, and all “insertions” skidded like grease.
Hedgerow was pleased at his crew and their dedicated efforts. He told them, at day’s end, “If you guys aren’t in a hurry to get home, I’ll treat everybody to a few pints down at Spud’s place. A quick stop. A quick thank you, so there’ll be no noise at home.
Six days later, all the sites were fitted with memorial stones containing appropriate inscriptions, grass seed put down on the exposed earth, and the initial watering completed.
In the morning, Blakeslee, at the completion of his morning stroll to make sure all things were okay and still in order, called Hedgerow to one of the new sites. He pointed to a newly inscribed stone that said, “Herbert Sendall 1932-2010” and on the next line, “Sarah Sendall 1936-“
On the stone was also inscribed, with a dull drill of some sort and inlaid with a black paint, the words, “Also Henry.”
“What the hell do you think that means, Jim?” Blakeslee said.
Hedgerow mused a bit, nodded, and said, “Probably kids. It’ll go away, unless the relatives make a
stink about it. Might cost them for a clean-up. Let it rest.”
A few days later Hedgerow was in the diner down the street. One of the homeless vets he knew spent some of his nights in the trees by the cemetery, and worked as a dishwasher in the diner, was talking at the kitchen door to someone outside. “Yeh, a few nights ago, we had a service and had to put old Henry down. But he’s safe now. Out of all the hullabaloo.”
Hedgerow saw him toss off a quick salute.
In some cases, eternity may be twice as long as forever.
Bio: Sheehan, now in his 95th year, (31st Infantry, Korea 1950-52; Boston College, beset with macular degeneration, has multiple works in Rosebud, Copperfield Review, Literally Stories (UK 200+), Frontier Tales, Green Silk Journal. He has 18 Pushcart nominations, 6 Best of Net nominations (one winner). Latest books released are The Townsman, The Horsemen Cometh, The Grand Royal Stand-off and Other Stories; Small Victories for the Soul VII; and Jock Poems and Reflections for Proper Bostonians, The Saugus Book, among others. His book count is now at 58.